Pretrial Discovery Cannot Be Used To Produce the Very Documents Sought In The Underlying CPRA Request

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education, Public Employers
DATE: Dec 07, 2023

In May 2021, Western Resources Legal Center (Western) submitted a public records request to San Benito County for records “about or related to” the Strada Verde Project.  In August 2021, the County told Western it had produced all non-privileged records.

In October 2021, Western submitted a second CPRA request relating to the County’s alleged “burying” of a report regarding a site adjacent to the Strada Verde Project.  The County responded that it anticipated responding on a “rolling basis” beginning November 19, 2021.

Western sued, alleging the County had not provided responsive records to its second request, nor conducted a reasonable or adequate search for the records.  Western alleged the County was withholding responsive records and delaying public access to information.

Within a month of commencing its CPRA litigation, Western sent multiple discovery requests to the County, including requesting all documents responsive to its CPRA request.  Western also issued an interrogatory asking the County to explain in detail what action, if any, was taken to investigate certain allegations of misconduct and, if no action was taken, to explain “why not.”  Following a motion to compel, the trial court ordered the County to produce the requested documents.  The County appealed the adverse ruling on the motion to compel.

The California Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court.  The Court concluded that a discovery request cannot be used for production of the same documents sought by the underlying CPRA request.  The Court also found that the interrogatories seeking a narrative justification for the County’s past decisions were also improper.

With respect to those issues, the Court of Appeal overturned the trial court’s ruling on the motion to compel.

County of San Benito v. Superior Court (Western Resources Legal Center), 96 Cal. App. 5th 243 (2023).

Key Takeaway: If your agency is sued for alleged violations of the CPRA, make sure to object to any discovery request for the same documents that were the subject of the CPRA request.

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